It was during the 1998 Constitutional Convention that I first concluded that the charming and amusing doyen of the Australian press, Frank Devine, is actually a covert monarchist. His piece last year on The Queen and the Commonwealth confirmed this. As I said in my column on 27 March 2006, I am sure that he is one of a growing band of covert monarchists across the nation who are ready to act when needed. Some see tactical advantage in not announcing their allegiance, others are embarrassed to admit their monarchism in public. But I don’t think for one moment that were his monarchism to be widely known, it would worry him. It would not concern him that he might be barred from the journalists' club, hissed in the press gallery, that corgis would openly lick his hand in the streets, or even that he may never again be invited to the fashionable republican salons of inner Sydney. Heavens, his ABC and SBS reception could well be jammed in retaliation, and The Age may never again be delivered. Frank Devine couldn’t care less about all that. In fact he’d probably enjoy the reaction. In my view he only poses as a direct election republican to “take the mickey” out of not so much out of the monarchists, but what is infinitely more fun, out of the other rather gloomy roundheads.
So imagine how amused the troops were at Monarchy HQ, when we saw his description of the latest issue of The Australian Constitutional Defender.
Writing in his column in The Australian on 7 September, 2007, he camouflaged his monarchism by saying his household is by no means a “one-stop shop politically.” Claiming to be “mildly affronted,” he says he was not surprised to come upon a magazine in the sitting room with a portrait of Prince William, “looking almost Paris Hiltonishly provocative and lovely, on its front cover.”
“The prince was wearing a uniform that might have been run up for him to star at the Duchess of Richmond's ball on the eve of Waterloo. I guess he would have left his leather-visored cap, with its broad red band and EIIR insignia, in the gents' cloakroom. But the silver-buttoned, high-necked, gold-braided navy blue tunic and (one assumes, though the cover picture cut him off at the lower chest, matching trousers) would have made him a cynosure on the dance floor in old Brussels, or I guess at a club hop in Simla or Nairobi. This is not to mention his fine white teeth and sexily sleepy blue eyes.”
He writes that there “was scarcely a ripple of public reaction,” most Australians not even noticing the prospect of “getting a handsome prince” as Governor-General.” He says he felt “a certain sympathetic tristesse over the claim by the Constitutional Defender that William's appointment would be enormously popular and would attract international attention." I suspect that Frank was away at the time, because there was quite a feeding frenzy over the story which emenated from a New York based socialite journalist. What I found fascinating was that young journalists, including people I had assumed were republicans, were interested.
And then one very prominent “public intellectual,” whom I had always assumed to be a republican, reproached me for “closing off the debate too early.” His point was that without ACM the debate had nowhere else to go. Now I believe that both by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were wrong to rule out any member of the Royal Family ever being appointed. My point was that such an appointment could not be accepted at present by a member of the Royal Family unless two conditions were fulfilled. There would have to be bipartisan support, and Australia’s political leaders would have to guarantee that they would not behave as disgracefully as their predecessors on both sides did over 1975 and up to the referendum. (I do not think for one moment that attaining bipartisan support is a pipe dream. Because a political party is adamant now about something does not mean it will not change its mind. And as I suggested in ACM’s recent monograph on the Australian Crown, there is one way to ensure 1975 will be most unlikely to be repeated, and that can be done without changing the Senate’s powers.)
I concluded my 2006 column by observing that Frank Devine is the oldest enfant terrible I know. I still think that and I only wish there were more like him to stimulate the world of politics and the media. In fact, think he should be the recipient of one of those awards in Her Majesty’s personal gift.
I can just imagine the scene: “ Arise, our trusty and well beloved Sir Frank Devine.”